Census worker ringing doorbell

Census to test Internet-enabled survey for 2020 count

The 2020 census might seem like a long way off, but the Census Bureau is already exploring ways new applications might help improve the cost, participation rate, energy savings and accuracy of the next decennial census.

The agency announced it will hire 1,000 temporary office and field staffers to help conduct a 2014 census field test in parts of Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, Md., to explore new methods and technologies for conducting the population count.

These methods include offering respondents the option of filling out the questionnaire online and testing a smartphone app for quicker and more accurate data collection from non-responding households, the Bureau said.

"We are committed to making the 2020 Census as accurate and cost-effective as possible," said Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson, who spoke recently at a Census local office opening in Silver Spring, Md.

"As part of those efforts, we are in the field now to evaluate new survey methods, including the Internet as a data collection source. Washington, D.C., and the Maryland suburbs are an ideal testing ground because of their growing and diverse populations."

Although Internet data collection was not offered for the 2010 census, the Bureau has been using it for the American Community Survey, a local economic statistical survey, as well as other surveys for several years now, and will test how to best use it for the 2020 Census. It is also researching other ways to increase response rates, decrease the number of door-to-door interviews, raise workforce productivity and streamline operations. These changes should save taxpayer money, maintain accuracy and reduce the burden on respondents.

The 2014 test will help the bureau evaluate the effect of enabling some respondents to sign up for email or text message notification before responding to the questionnaire. Other goals for the Census test include evaluating multiple response options, including telephone interview, paper questionnaire or Internet.

According to the bureau, continued investment in research and development will produce an accurate and cost-effective 2020 census and potentially save $5 billion.  

Besides this test of increasing the number of self respondents by using the Internet, the bureau is also considering:  

  • Using information people have already given the government to answer census questions.  The bureau is researching how to use existing government data – from agencies such as the Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services – to reduce the number of follow-up interviews.
  • Automating workforce management. Using GPS-enabled smartphones and tablets, the bureau expects to streamline data collection and automate workforce logistics.
  • Updating existing maps and address lists. By identifying the neighborhoods with significant changes and using alternative sources of information from state, local or tribal governments, the bureau hopes to increase accuracy and reduce door-to-door interviews. 

About the Author

Connect with the GCN staff on Twitter @GCNtech.


  • Records management: Look beyond the NARA mandates

    Pandemic tests electronic records management

    Between the rush enable more virtual collaboration, stalled digitization of archived records and managing records that reside in datasets, records management executives are sorting through new challenges.

  • boy learning at home (Travelpixs/Shutterstock.com)

    Tucson’s community wireless bridges the digital divide

    The city built cell sites at government-owned facilities such as fire departments and libraries that were already connected to Tucson’s existing fiber backbone.

Stay Connected